Weather Routing: Four Advantages of an Optimized Solution

Sailing the shortest distance between two ports isn’t always the quickest or most fuel-efficient route. Instead, forward-thinking charterers, owners and vessel managers use accurate weather data to optimize their routes based on the KPIs of the voyage - fuel consumption, ETAs, and other charter-party conditions while ensuring the safety of crew and cargo.


Today, weather routing is not only crucial for avoiding adverse weather conditions but also to ensure each ship runs at peak performance. From pre-voyage planning to compliance and beyond, weather routing supports sustainable, cost-effective shipping.


Onboard and Onshore: How Weather Routing Can Be Used


Optimum weather routing is the art and science of developing the “best route” for a ship based on the existing weather forecasts, ship characteristics, and cargo requirements. For most voyages, this will mean the minimum transit time, and so the least cost, while avoiding significant risks to the vessel, crew, and cargo.


The goal is not to avoid all adverse weather but to find the best balance to minimize the time of transit and fuel consumption without placing the vessel at risk to damage or crew injury. The savings in operational costs come about through reduced transit times, fuel consumption and cargo and hull damage, as well as more efficient scheduling of dockside activities.  Additional savings also come from increasing the service life of the vessel and reduced insurance costs.


Charterers, shipping companies, and ship owners can elect to use weather data both onboard and onshore:

●      Onboard routing systems enable the captain to calculate the optimum route without compromising on safety

●      Onshore monitoring systems use aggregated vessel data to provide fleet operators, operations managers and performance managers  performance analysis

●      Onshore dedicated-routing teams can also provide optimal route guidance with vessels thanks to the expertise of experienced master mariners



The Four Benefits of Optimized Weather Routing


1. Reduce costs


What’s the scenario: Strong competition in shipping means profit margins thin. For ship owners, charterers, and shipping companies, vessel efficiency is essential to maximize their return. In particular, reducing fuel consumption can help them make important savings.


Their priority, therefore, is to minimize both transit times and fuel consumption, without placing the vessel at risk. The savings in operational costs come about by reducing transit times, reducing fuel consumption, and minimizing cargo and hull damage.


How weather routing helps: Weather routing can reduce fuel consumption, without missing ETAs, breaking charter party agreements, or impacting on safety.


Optimal weather routing can offer fuel savings between 2- 5%, depending on the type of vessel, the season, and the conditions. Taking a fuel saving of 5% and a bunker price of $5000/ton, a ship burning 50 tons of fuel per day would see savings over $8500 on fuel costs during a seven-day transit.


The risk of not using optimized weather routing: Vessels that are not taking advantage of optimized weather routing can end up sailing a less efficient (and, therefore, more expensive) route.


For example, with optimized solutions, variable speed algorithms can be used to avoid adverse weather by slowing down or speeding up - rather than navigating around it and using more fuel


2. Improving efficiency


What’s the scenario: Route planning is complex. Whether managed onboard or onshore, teams need the right tools to help support their decisions and ensure they’re sailing the optimal route for their voyage.


How weather routing helps: Onboard, captains have to manage safety, efficiency, fuel consumption, ETAs, speed ranges, and additional constraints, including trim and seakeeping. Onboard tools can give them more confidence in their decisions by helping them to calculate the route that will help them meet their KPIs.


Alongside this, charterers, owners, and vessel managers also want detailed weather information. They need it to pre-plan routes before a voyage, but also to adapt during the passage, and to analyze post-voyage. By recalculating the optimal route, using the latest weather forecasts, onshore teams can support captains to save time, fuel, and reduce emissions.


The risk of not using optimized weather routing: Accurate weather data and advances in technology mean that captains can have more data onboard than ever before. Add-ons, such as the trim advisor, specifically help reduce fuel consumption and increase the utilization of your fleet.


Adverse weather alerts can let you know if conditions are changing on your planned route. This insight enables you to plot an alternative route before it affects the performance of the voyage or becomes a safety risk.


3. Reduce the environmental impact


What’s the scenario: Reducing emissions is a priority for the shipping industry - especially as over 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions can be attributed to ocean-going ships. While regulations, such as IMO 2020, will help, shipping companies can implement other approaches, like speed reduction and weather routing, to help manage and reduce their emissions.


How weather routing helps: Studies show the shipping industry can reduce emissions by up to 55% through measures to reduce fuel consumption. Specific techniques, like speed reduction and weather routing, can reduce emissions by 17-34% and 1-4% respectively and save up to €280 per ton of fuel.


The risk of not using optimized weather routing: Reducing emissions through speed reduction does have limitations because time is always a key consideration for shipping. However, full knowledge of circumstances can allow a vessel to slow down. For example, if adverse weather at a terminal means it cannot handle the cargo, relaying this information to the captain means he can reduce the speed. Otherwise, the vessel has to wait outside port until the weather improves. The same can also apply if the lay days and the canceling clause in a charter party allow.


4. Improve safety


What’s the scenario: Adverse weather poses a safety risk to the crew, as well as to the ship itself from excessive ship motion, slamming, or seas washing over the decks. When ships enter gale force or higher wind fields, this strongly impacts the ability for the master to maneuver the vessel.


How weather routing helps:  While shipping companies want vessels to take the optimal route, in order to save time and money, they need to know that their vessel will withstand the conditions along their chosen route, and ensure the safety of your crew and cargo. Seakeeping helps to plan the best route, taking into consideration the dimensions, draft, and loading conditions of your vessel.


The risk of not using optimized weather routing:  In extreme weather, it’s obvious you cannot maintain the same route. The conditions are too dangerous. But what about conditions that are close to the edge. It’s a difficult decision because avoiding all adverse weather adds costs and can result in ships arriving late to port. Confidence in your weather forecast helps you make the right call at the right time.



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